Students in our program receive training in the conceptual and empirical areas necessary to work on the biological basis of behavior: They learn to integrate advanced techniques in biological and neurobiological analysis with equally advanced behavioral techniques. Research forms the core of the program and is a central part of the curriculum from the first year until completion of the degree. Moreover, the program is designed to strike a balance between course work, research, and teaching experiences. Students are strongly encouraged to articulate their knowledge and research findings through scholarship, publication, presentation at professional meetings, and teaching. Many of our students and faculty are supported by our training grant, “Predoctoral Training in Research on Drug Abuse.”
Our Ph.D. program is designed with the expectation of a 4 to 5 year commitment. During the first year, the trainee takes courses, participates in the program seminar (see below), and carries out a first-year research project under the direct supervision of his or her advisor. During the second year, the trainee continues course work and research and prepares for the doctoral written qualifying examination which has two parts: A general section covering the broad field of biological psychology, and a second section covering the student’s special area of interest (e.g., behavioral pharmacology, neurobiological bases of learning and memory, neuroimmunology, psychophysiology, sensory information processing, etc.).
During the third year, the student continues course work and research, and prepares a dissertation proposal by the end of the fall semester. The proposal is modeled after (and may be used as) a fellowship grant application. In the spring, the student is given an oral examination on the proposal by a committee of five faculty. This examination is designed to ensure the student’s thorough mastery of his or her general research area and specific research problem.
During the fourth year, the student completes any outstanding requirements, conducts the dissertation research, and prepares the dissertation. The final oral examination takes the form of a seminar presentation, and is attended by students and faculty of the program in addition to the student’s doctoral committee.
We hold weekly seminar meetings at which predoctoral and postdoctoral trainees, program faculty and outside speakers present their research and/or surveys of their research areas. The seminar provides a forum for communicating knowledge, presenting and integrating new findings, proposing new ideas, and (for students) practicing for forthcoming presentations at scientific meetings. An additional function of the program seminar is to foster the professional development of our trainees. Special sessions are devoted to topics such as scientific ethics, preparations of research proposals and scientific papers for publication, among others.
As indicated in the above description, the training program leading to the Ph.D. is designed to promote competency in areas that are critical for a career in research. With the anticipation that many of our students will pursue their careers in an academic setting, our faculty believe that we have the responsibility to train doctoral students, not only as scholars and research scientists, but also as teachers. Our program provides a supervised teaching experience as part of our education process. Our students find their teaching experience rewarding, and important not only in anticipation of their future career goals, but also as relevant training in communication skills that will play a continuing role in their scientific work.